JRPG Difficulty Curve

I've been watching the Persona 4 Endurance run (again) and something the guys mention during Yukiko's shadow really got me thinking. Basically, Vinny talks about how he's read that this boss is the hardest in the game and he thinks that this could be because of your lack of options at that point in the game, this got me thinking.

Now I'm a big fan of JRPG's, I've played a lot from a variety of different franchises and not all of them suffer from this but I've found that as the game goes on they generally get easier rather than harder, take Persona 4 for example. throughout the game there are enemies which will take your party down to low health very quickly, early on, supposedly the easier part of the game, you have very few options, you can cast Dia on everyone for ~50 hp a piece but  later in the game that is no problem, you cast a Mediarahan and everyone is instantly topped off, doesn't this seem backward? Why in the 'easier'  half of the game are you finding it harder to stay alive than at the end?

Of course as the game goes on you level up, get higher S.Links and aquire more powerful personas though you'd think the enemies would scale that much quicker than you to compensate but they generally don't, instead you get more options with buffs, status effects, personas and items than you'd ever have early on.

I find that an early boss is usually the hardest in the game for exactly this reason, ever play Suikoden 1? That zombie dragon you meet right before you get your castle is one of the toughest early bosses I can think of and lack of options is exactly the reason, you get 2 new party members which you're forced to use that are fairly useless and you're too early in the game to have access to any significant rune powers to help you out.

Maybe it's just me, maybe this genre just doens't need to follow the standard difficulty curve to be enjoyable, for me personally I play JRPG's for the story and fighting can sometimes just get in the way of that so making it easier as I go can be a blessing. Maybe people really enjoy just feeling how powerful their characters are by the end and simply expect to roll through enemies.

Maybe a controversial idea but what would you think about a game that started you off with the most powerful spells and equipment and as you went you slowly got weakened as the enemies did to keep strategy a priority instead of relying on your Knights of the Round x4 to win every fight for you?


Like I glazed over earlier, this doesn't apply to all games, and it certainly doesn't diminish any enjoyment I get out of these games, just a thought I was having.



11 Comments
12 Comments
Posted by Tshirt

I've been watching the Persona 4 Endurance run (again) and something the guys mention during Yukiko's shadow really got me thinking. Basically, Vinny talks about how he's read that this boss is the hardest in the game and he thinks that this could be because of your lack of options at that point in the game, this got me thinking.

Now I'm a big fan of JRPG's, I've played a lot from a variety of different franchises and not all of them suffer from this but I've found that as the game goes on they generally get easier rather than harder, take Persona 4 for example. throughout the game there are enemies which will take your party down to low health very quickly, early on, supposedly the easier part of the game, you have very few options, you can cast Dia on everyone for ~50 hp a piece but  later in the game that is no problem, you cast a Mediarahan and everyone is instantly topped off, doesn't this seem backward? Why in the 'easier'  half of the game are you finding it harder to stay alive than at the end?

Of course as the game goes on you level up, get higher S.Links and aquire more powerful personas though you'd think the enemies would scale that much quicker than you to compensate but they generally don't, instead you get more options with buffs, status effects, personas and items than you'd ever have early on.

I find that an early boss is usually the hardest in the game for exactly this reason, ever play Suikoden 1? That zombie dragon you meet right before you get your castle is one of the toughest early bosses I can think of and lack of options is exactly the reason, you get 2 new party members which you're forced to use that are fairly useless and you're too early in the game to have access to any significant rune powers to help you out.

Maybe it's just me, maybe this genre just doens't need to follow the standard difficulty curve to be enjoyable, for me personally I play JRPG's for the story and fighting can sometimes just get in the way of that so making it easier as I go can be a blessing. Maybe people really enjoy just feeling how powerful their characters are by the end and simply expect to roll through enemies.

Maybe a controversial idea but what would you think about a game that started you off with the most powerful spells and equipment and as you went you slowly got weakened as the enemies did to keep strategy a priority instead of relying on your Knights of the Round x4 to win every fight for you?


Like I glazed over earlier, this doesn't apply to all games, and it certainly doesn't diminish any enjoyment I get out of these games, just a thought I was having.



Posted by McGhee

Maybe the point is that when you start off you are inexperienced and you grow as the game progresses. You gain more skills and you become more of a badass. You should feel some accomplishment in the game getting a little bit less harrowing. Or maybe the game just isn't balanced as well as it should be. Whatever.
 
And losing your abilities over time would suck. -__-

Posted by Tshirt
@McGhee_the_Insomniac said:
" Maybe the point is that when you start off you are inexperienced and you grow as the game progresses. You gain more skills and you become more of a badass. You should feel some accomplishment in the game getting a little bit less harrowing. Or maybe the game just isn't balanced as well as it should be. Whatever. And losing your abilities over time would suck. -__- "

Sure, I can understand that. I just feel that by the end fights devolve into casting your ultra spell and wiping out everything on screen, it gets to a point where the encounters last for less time than the loading screens getting in and out of battle.

This is just a personal feeling but it just seems to get to a point where the fights are just time sinks and are no challenge whatsoever.

Posted by Bigandtasty

I too have noticed that early JRPG bosses have a tendency to kick my ass more often than later ones (Tales of Vesperia's Gattuso and Skies of Arcadia's Executioner are some significant examples). In some cases I also feel like the game gets easy in the midgame, then ramps up at the end.
 
To be fair, I think this is also the case for some WRPGs, especially those with scaling elements. In Mass Effect 2, I felt like a beast from levels 16-24 or so, even on Insanity. As I passed that point, though, the scaling got pretty nuts and by the time I was level 30 I could die to normal enemies if I wasn't careful.

Posted by Kjellm87

I agree, RPGs at least feels more diffcult until you get the heavy hitters,
however it usually get more and more complex which makes up for it I suppose, more multi-taking

Posted by Tshirt
@Kjellm87 said:
" I agree, RPGs at least feels more diffcult until you get the heavy hitters, however it usually get more and more complex which makes up for it I suppose, more multi-taking "
Maybe that's it, perhaps it just feels harder early on because you don't understand the nuances of the game and then, during the late stages of the game, the difficulty gets masked by your own skill.
Edited by Tshirt
@Bigandtasty said:

" I too have noticed that early JRPG bosses have a tendency to kick my ass more often than later ones (Tales of Vesperia's Gattuso and Skies of Arcadia's Executioner are some significant examples). In some cases I also feel like the game gets easy in the midgame, then ramps up at the end.  To be fair, I think this is also the case for some WRPGs, especially those with scaling elements. In Mass Effect 2, I felt like a beast from levels 16-24 or so, even on Insanity. As I passed that point, though, the scaling got pretty nuts and by the time I was level 30 I could die to normal enemies if I wasn't careful. "

I played the mass effects as an infiltrator and you're right there, once I got that anti-matieral rifle and maxed out the Assassin cloak I was taking most sutff out in one shot, the difference is in a game like Mass Effect is that the battles can get harder just by swarming you with more enemies from different angles whereas a JRPg has static fights with a limited amount of enemies which limits the difficulty somewhat. 
Posted by SuicidalSnowman

Agreed.  The issue comes down to, in my opinion, poor balance choices, or at least the necessity of varying difficulty options. 
 
I think a lot of J-RPGs, or even just RPGs in general, or even more action oriented games, such as the Fable series, are often designed for gamers who are more casual.  I remember watching my roommate in college play Fable, he was a serious Halo/Madden gamer, but didn't spend much time with games with a character development system.  He simply kept powering up his sword, because he didn't understand the tech tree, and the game defaults with a sword, so might as well make that stronger.  He almost never considered any other attacks or combos, just powered up straight up sword melee, and some defensive traits. 
 
Take games such as FFVII.  That game can be beaten with one character at ridiculously low levels if you use all the abilities and options available.  But most people never take advantage of that.  Hell, the first time I played FFVII it was my first real JRPG (of course, back then they were just RPGs) and I dropped Aeris early on since her attacks were weakest.  I had no idea that she had a ridiculous limit break, or that she had great casting abilities.  I also gave Barret full materia, not understanding that it was lowering his hitpoints, strength, and other basic stats... For me, the Final version of Sephiroth WAS hard.  But for anyone with any prior experience, doing any of the optional side quests, the final bosses take one or two rounds... 
 
I would like to see JRPGs with either more difficult side areas, or different difficulty levels, to balance this out.

Posted by DJ_Lae

I agree, and it seems it's just a matter of balance on the developer's side. The feeling of growing more powerful, acquiring better weapons and spells and such can be offset by simply tweaking enemy stats and abilities.
 
I'm currently replaying FFVIII and it's amazing how you can completely abuse the junction system to essentially take down bosses in a couple of hits from Squall, and use Enc-None to avoid random battles entirely. At that point the game basically becomes a mild adventure game with occasional (but pathetically easy) bosses. I'm not sure how they could tweak things, though, as the junction system simply affords too much customization to the end user - and I'm sure most people didn't really do much with it anyway, so they'd have their gameplay experience unfairly penalized.
 
With Final Fantasy, at least, it seems they try and offset some of that by throwing in Ultimate Weapons and bosses to challenge the more hardcore players. But even so, they're a small fraction of the game content.

Posted by Animasta
@SuicidalSnowman: go play resonance of fate and go do Neverland, that area is NO FUCKING JOKE. seriously. you have to attack with 2 people and leave with the third to even SURVIVE.
 
ended the game at level 80 for the regular boss fight, but 180 at the final neverland boss ;_;
Posted by SuicidalSnowman
@Laketown: Man, I keep hearing so many good things about that game... I guess I am going to have to make some time for it, and soon.
Posted by iam3green

i hate when games get difficult later in the game. i just think that at one point it gets easy and then becomes super hard to it takes a couple of tries to beat a guy. i think games do it because of how the character advances throughout the game. it's alright because of new powers that the character gets in the game.